Brandenburg Gate / Brandenburger Tor

I am at the end of my sabbatical here. After my last class at the Goethe Institut, I take a nostalgic stroll by this city emblem and theme image of this blog.

On the gate completed in 1789 by Carl Gotthard Langhans, sits the stunning Quadriga (Victory on her horse drawn chariot) by Schadow whom I have mentioned more than once.

In 1806 when Napoleon took Berlin, he removed the Quadriga, by now a national symbol, removing it to Paris, which was eventually won back and reinstalled in 1814.

Increasingly the gate was used to represent military might with parades through it, for example in 1933, when the National Socialists came to power.

Bitter fighting as the Soviets took this sector of Berlin near the end of the war in April 1945, saw the Quadriga almost completely destroyed.

In the 1950s, the Quadriga was restored in a brief East/West Germany cooperation which was short lived, with the installation of the Berlin wall in 1961 and the gate was lost to the East German zone.

With the fall of the Wall in November 1989, the gate and the Quadriga have resumed significance. In my short time here I have seen the gate set up to screen the football final, host President Obama’s drop in, and last weekend it was the venue for the Christopher Street party. Three more divergent uses you could not imagine.

I walk away more than a little sad, trying to dodge out of frame of the many, ‘I’ve been there’ photos being made in front of the gate, around me. I’ve been there too and its been totally amazing. Thank you Berlin. And thank you Goethe-Institut.



Kennedy Museum Berlin

It’s 50 years this week since John F. Kennedy made his famous visit to Berlin. The newspapers here have referenced it almost every day so I check out the Berlin Kennedy Museum in the Mitte.

There is a terrific collection of photography and easy commentary charting the ascension of JFK, his marriage, his family life and his career, but the focus is of course on the 26 June 1963 visit to West Berlin.

Over one million West Berliners crowded the streets to see JFK, seated in an open car accompanied by the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt, drive past.

The route was 50 kilometres long and it was packed with well wishers, but for at the Brandenburger Tor. The East Germans had hung red curtains up so no one could see through to the Eastern sector and there was a note citing Soviet demands.

After viewing the impact of a divided city, Kennedy became more impassioned than planned in the delicate days of détente and went off script a bit, rewriting his speech notes. You can see footage of his speech and that of charismatic Willy Brandt made in Schoneberg in front of the city hall, at the museum. Both these men were at the top of their game as orators.

Also on display are personal belongings from the visit and Kennedy’s speech note card with ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ with phonetical reminders on how to pronounce this historic sentence. It’s interesting a Presidential visit of less than one day’s duration has left such an enduring legacy in Berlin and there’s still a Schöneberg platz named in his honour today.


Neue Nationalgalerie/ In white light exhibition

I’ve become obsessed with statues in Berlin as they are emblematic of this city. Many Denkmal as they are called in German, are a result of two main sculptors, Johann Gottfried Schadow (1764 to 1850) and Christian Daniel Rauch (1777 to 1857). Both studied in Rome post their Berlin apprenticeships, hence the strong Neoclassical influence.

They were also both favoured by the prolific architect Karl Freidrich Schinkel which is why so much of their work endures today.

Look around Berlin and many city icons are the work of these sculptors. The Quadriga on top of the Brandenburg Gate is by Schadow, and in the Unter den Linden the equestrian statue of Frederick the Great is by Rauch.

Today I see an exhibition of their work and their contemporaries in the stark modernistic Neue Nationalgalerie foyer, removed from their normal residence in nearby Friedrichswerder Kirche which needs a renovation.

The exhibition named Im Weissen Licht, in white light, has many now familiar faces to me, including a bust of Goethe by Rauch, one of Kant by Hagemann, Schadow’s student, and several renditions of royalty, including the famous Princess series by Schadow.


Sunday in the Tiergarten Berlin

For two months now I have looked out enviously from the train or bus, at people lounging in this beautiful park on sunny days.

We entrance the park with no particular plan, from the Grosse Stern, a tall monument with the golden Goddess of Victory at its peak. You can see her from the wide roads converging from all directions to a roundabout at the foot of this landmark, often with interesting results, as car brakes screech and horns toot.

This park was a hunting ground for Prussian royalty, (Tier means animals in German). There are many intense statues celebrating the demise of the game at the hands of their hunters throughout the park.

Most enjoyable is the sense of scale with 167 hectares available to wander the chalky paths under huge trees, or you can cover more of it by rented bicycle.

Berliners are out in force today with many families picnicking and their children playing football by the ballspielen verboten signs. One rule that Berliners do seem to keep to, are that Grille, BBQs, are forbidden in the Tiergarten.

We end up near the Berlin Zoo at a charming Biergarten, next to a lake with a dinghy hire. Then weave our way along a quiet canal that skirts some Zoo enclosures, to the SBahn, collapsing on the train completely exhausted.


Gemäldegalerie Berlin/ Botticelli, Caravaggio

I did think of rushing off to Florence for a weekend and joining the tourist hordes to view some favourite Renaissance art including Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. Instead in an empty Berlin gallery I view another Venus by Botticelli, a painting made in the same series, no lines, no noise, no tour groups.

Gemäldegalerie houses an outstanding collection of European works from the 1200s to 1700s. The Italian section is particularly impressive housing several Botticellis, Filippo Lippi, Raffael, Titian works with also a rather wicked Caravaggio, painted of a cupid, purported to be a likeness of his lover at the time.

There is also a huge Flemish collection, with several Rembrandt masterpieces which are absolutely stunning. Also van Eyck, Bruegel and Dürer paintings. The list goes on. Trust me, just go visit this gallery.

On a less high brow note, I notice the Sommerkino, outdoor movies, are shown in front of the museum in the Kulturforum. We return to watch James Bond Sky Fall auf Deutsch that night, in the 10 PM dusk.


Obama in Berlin

After class, my curiosity gets the better of me. I head for Brandenburger Tor where tomorrow President Obama will speak to honour 50 years since JFK made his ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ address, unfortunately with a grammatical gaff. I only understand this now after being at the Goethe Institut. He should have said ‘Ich bin Berliner’ not ein Berliner of the delicious donut variety.

I watch with interest the finishing touches on the stage Obama will speak from, complete with thick panes of bullet proof glass. Only a chosen few will see him speak live, as well as the swirling press, who are already assembled. A professional photographer and I, both compete for the same spot to take a photo of flags hung from the bleachers, limp in the windless sultry heat.

Walking around the arena today is the closest the uninvited will get to see the President, plus, those camped out in front of his hotel in Potsdamer Platz. Tomorrow there will be a one kilometre cordon and a no-fly zone above.

Just to be doubly sure I can’t get a glimpse of the President, I head for Potsdamer Platz and sit in a street cafe opposite his hotel which has a Panza tank on its forecourt and hordes of twitchy Polizei.

About 8 PM, a cavalcade of police cars and tinted window black limos move off. I run to the curb.  I am not sure if it was Obama, his decoy, or just another VIP out with their entourage, but if it was, the crazed blonde pointing the IPAD, says hi.


Forum Willy Brandt Berlin

I was hoping to drop in on the Kennedy’s today, or at least the museum celebrating JFK’s famous Berlin visit 50 years ago this month, but its been moved away from the Brandenburger Tor. Whilst I am in the neighbourhood, I visit the museum dedicated to Berlin’s former mayor, Willy Brandt, who hosted Kennedy on his visit.

And what a productive life Brandt lived. In the early 1930s he went into exile in Scandinavia to work with the resistance against Hitler and as a correspondent. From 1957 to 1966 he was the Mayor of Berlin in very tense circumstances, post the construction of the wall in 1961. In 1969, he became German Federal Chancellor and fought for reforms and greater democracy. He was recognised with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971.

He entered the European Parliament in 1979 and lobbied the USA and Soviet Russia over the arms race. He also engaged with Gorbachev to successfully achieve reunification of Germany.In his spare time he also did hostage negotiation, successfully freeing 198 Western hostages in Baghdad in 1990. He died in 1992. There are several of his sayings displayed at this free museum, as well as photos including those with JFK and documentary film. This saying best sums Willy Brandt up. ‘Peace is not everything, but everything is nothing, without peace.’